Joy and Jill

Joy and Jill have been playing music and making a difference in their community all their lives. Born and raised in Jeannette, PA, the twins reside in the same house where they grew up, a house that was often filled with the music their father loved and played on his accordion. He was an accomplished musician, and the girls followed suit, graduating from Seton Hill University, each with a degree in music performance.

While music has remained a common thread through their lives, their professional careers have taken various turns. Both women returned to school for degrees in medical transcription, and Joy spent over a decade working part time as a medical transcriptionist. And, both women recently went back to school for diplomas in web design (Jill) and 3D animation (Joy)! But neither has ever stopped playing music, and they continue to perform professionally both solo, as well as part of larger bands.

A full swing band seated on risers on a stage.

The Glass City Swing Band’s Billy May concert in 2016 at the Science Hall Theater at the Westmoreland County Community College.

Wanting to give back to the community and celebrate the swing music they love, they started Glass City Swing Band (GCSB) in 2009, an 18-piece swing band that has expanded into a nonprofit organization that benefits others through music. Their mission is to promote disability awareness and art therapy, and to preserve history through music, specifically that of the Swing Era. They host many events throughout the year, including Battle of the Sinatras, where high school students compete by singing famous Frank Sinatra songs accompanied by the GCSB musicians. And they just finished their first Swingin’ with Creative Arts Therapies (SCAT) program in October, where children and adults with disabilities were introduced to Swing Era music and given the opportunity to express their interpretations of it through art, music, and dance.

“We remember the opportunities we have received throughout the years from a caring community and now wish to give back to our community and other communities through our passion for music and all the arts,” explains Joy.

A woman sits in a professional musician's chair with a device attached to it that holds her trumpet at the right height to play.

Joy uses her custom stand to play the trumpet.

Diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy at the age of 7, Joy and Jill use a variety of assistive technology to support their day-to-day activities. For instance, Joy plays her trumpet using the same set up she’s had since college—a professional musician’s chair with a device attached to the seat that extends up to hold the trumpet at the right level in front of her. “I wouldn’t be able to hold it myself,” she says, “My band director in high school brought me an article about a boy in Texas whose band teacher built him this device so he could play. In college, I finally wrote to him and he sent me the design.” A friend’s dad owned a machine shop and built it for her. Simple, but effective, and she’s been using it ever since.

Meanwhile, Joy’s sister Jill was having problems last year with hand strength. With the help of one of their band members, she started making adjustments to her saxophone, loosening up all the keys so that she doesn’t have to use as much pressure to push them. Sometimes simple solutions are the best solutions.

Both women use scooters to get around comfortably and an adapted van for transportation. “Dependable transportation is a need, a must! We’re professional musicians. We need to be at appointments when we say we’ll be there. We also do all our shopping, errands, take care of our 92-year-old mom, go to meetings, go to church, and of course run the organization,” Joy explains.

Two women sit on their scooters in their adapted van, one in the front passenger area, the other in the rear passenger area.

Jill and Joy in their new adapted van!

They purchased their last van using a PATF loan back in 2008; the vehicle modifications were covered by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). Now, after ten years of use, with holes on the underside that you could stick your fist through and a lift door that falls off occasionally, they’re excited to have their new van, which they purchased again with the help of OVR and financed through the Toyota dealership. A lifetime of sound money habits has paid off with an extremely low interest rate on a 5-year loan. “We’ve always been big savers, never spent a lot, and had rules: if we took money out from the bank, we put it back; we never bought anything we didn’t have money for; and we have one credit card and pay it off in full every month,” says Joy. Most recently, as part of their financial plan, they’ve each opened an ABLE account: “For now, we’ll use our ABLE accounts for our retirement savings. We love that we can save our own money and not be penalized for having it.” Another sound financial decision that will benefit these sisters over the long term, allowing them to continue to live the life they want to live.

With an interest rate of just 3.75%, PATF low-interest loans provide Pennsylvanians with disabilities the chance to purchase assistive technology, like adapted vehicles. But loans aren’t all we offer. Our primary goal is to help you get the assistive technology you want and need in the way that makes most sense to you. We’ll help you navigate public and private funding resources and make sense of what your option are. Contact us to learn more about funding options for your assistive technology.